'Every game's a must-win': Leeds Rhinos forward Sam Walters admits Hull FC clash vital to Super League top six hopes

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Big forward Sam Walters has spoken about his return to Leeds Rhinos’ 17 after an injury-hit first half of the year and stressed his willingness to play anywhere for the good of the team.

The former England academy second-rower made his first team debut in 2020 - when he played four times - and added eight appearances last term.

But he suffered a setback in January when he suffered a shoulder injury during a pre-season game at Bradford Bulls.

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He made his comeback in Rohan Smith’s first game as coach, away to Salford in May and has featured in the last two matches, both as a substitute.

Sam Walters endured a long spell on the sidelines after being injured in a pre-season game at Bradford. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.Sam Walters endured a long spell on the sidelines after being injured in a pre-season game at Bradford. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.
Sam Walters endured a long spell on the sidelines after being injured in a pre-season game at Bradford. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.

The 21-year-old is in the initial squad for today’s crucial fixture at Hull and, with suspensions reducing Rhinos to only two available specialist props, could find himself playing in the middle of the field.

At around 6ft 7, Walters has the size to feature as a front-rower and insisted he is happy to do whatever is needed to help the side get back to winning ways.

The former Widnes Vikings academy man admitted prop probably isn’t his long-term role, but stressed: “At the moment it’s about getting in the team and that’s probably the only way I can do it.

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“Obviously I am a big body and it’s good if I can help the team.”

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Zane Tetevano will begin a five-match ban this afternoon and fellow props Tom Holroyd and Muizz Mustapha are part way through lengthy suspensions.

Bodene Thompson is ruled out of the next two matches for a similar reason, so Rhinos are lacking size up front.

“With the bans, we are a bit light on middles at the moment,” Walters said.

“I don’t mind putting my hand up and playing.

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“It is giving me good game time as well, which is something I am striving to achieve this season.

“I am seeing the rewards now of getting some game time.

“For me it is about getting some consistency and building on my performance week by week.

“My aim this year is to get as many games as I can under my belt and then have a good season going into my last year [under contract].”

Walters reckons going head-to-head with the likes of England front-rower Alex Walmsley last week and Hull’s Kane Evans today can only be good for his development.

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“I want to play against the best players and the best teams,” he said.

“That’s when you learn the most about yourself.

“Getting that exposure at the top level is the only way I am going to get better and it [today] will be a good test.”

Hull began this weekend fifth in Betfred Super League and Rhinos face Castleford Tigers, the team who went into round 17 one place below them, at Magic Weekend next Saturday.

Two defeats would effectively end their top six hopes and Walters said: “Every game’s a must-win game.

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“This week is going to be a real battle, but I am full of confidence we can go there and get the job done.

“A couple of performances haven’t gone our way, but I think we are building a little bit.”

Rhinos pushed champions St Helens for an hour last week before falling away during a closing spell when they had Tetevano sent-off and Thompson and James Bentley sin-binned.

“It was disappointing the way we finished the game, with our discipline and stuff like that,” Walters admitted of the 42-12 defeat.

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“We need to be better as a collective on that, which is something Rohan has addressed this week.

“He has said we are not going to be that team.

“We have got to be calm with our emotions, even when the game is in the balance.

“Arguing with the ref is only going to hurt us, at the end of the day, so we are trying to take a step back.”

Before that spell, Rhinos had shown some good signs.

“There were a couple of times when we had a real game on our hands,” Walters said.

“In the first 20 minutes we dealt with them and went set for set. It was disappointing after that and the way we finished was a poor reflection of how we played on the day.”